Finland, a small Nordic country where I live now, ranks top on the index of various positive social aspects such as absence of corruption, peace and security being in place, healthcare of mother and child, and the quality of its schooling system.
The Scandinavian country of about only 5.5 million people has improved its education system, particularly its schooling system significantly over the past years, and is now exporting its expertise and training in primary and secondary education to different countries in the world.
As per the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), students of the primary and secondary levels of the country have secured top position in various disciplines and categories of education in recent years.
Although the Finnish schooling system is very simple and less expensive compared to that in other parts of the world, and Bangladesh as well, the huge gap between the quality and standard should make the policymakers of Bangladesh sense the necessity to find out the basic loopholes and drawbacks of the education system in Bangladesh, to overcome the situation through narrowing down the gap.
Here, first I would like to point out how a Finnish child grows up and enters the education system of the country. Education is a strong part of culture that develops a child from pre-school years into adulthood.
The Finnish children do not start their study formally until they reach the age of seven years, but they learn many things including manners, attitudes, disciplines, norms, values, rights, self-respect, and sports from pre-schooling and day-care centres.
Primary and secondary education systems here are not strict like in other nations, and they learn everything through fun, game, gossiping, singing, and dancing that makes students interested in going to school instead of considering it a burden or pressure on them.
Arts, culture, and inventing mechanical tools are also taught in the schools that the students enjoy very much. The objective of basic education in Finland is to support pupils' growth towards humanity and ethically responsible membership of the society and to provide them with the knowledge and skills needed in life.
The children start to get lessons through a uniformed system and the local municipalities select the schools and daycares for the students as per their localities in a systematic way. Schools do not select their students. Neither the parents nor the students need to think about admission into schools.
Every student is allocated a place in a nearby school, but they can also choose another school with some restrictions.
The education system consists of pre-primary and basic education, general and vocational education and higher education. The compulsory schooling consists of one-year pre-primary education for six-year-olds and nine-year basic education for children aged seven to sixteen.
All schools follow a national core curriculum, which includes the objectives and core contents of different subjects. The education providers, usually local education authorities and the schools themselves, draw up their own curricula within the framework of the national core curriculum.
The country does not divide its basic education into elementary and junior highs. Instead, it offers single-structure education for nine years, 190 days per year. As per the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), policymakers leave plenty of room for local school administrators and teachers to revise and revamp the curriculum to meet the needs of their unique student body.
Education is free. In addition, the schools provide the students with meals, healthcare and transport facilities (if the school is more than three kilometres away). Based on their grades, students then go to either vocational schools or upper secondary schools.
To know the details, I asked Heikki Ervast, the principal of a primary and secondary school in Finland (Lapin Yliopiston Harjoittelukoulu), about their thoughts on the Finnish schooling system. He, however, said that they do not care for the PISA ranking, but instead focused on improving certain things in education.
"Is it necessary to be the top in the world?" he asked, stating that the rankings are based on research with certain limited indicators and they are not evaluating the education system in whole.
"But, of course, the surveys and tests like PISA inform us about how to improve certain things in education. I think the Finnish system can produce better and better results by continuing the development processes like we are doing now," said Ervast.
He said that they have a very good teacher education system, a good national curriculum, educational equality, continuous evaluation of education, and the necessary development system of education that have taken Finland to its current global position.
"The teachers, pupils and parents play the main roles in developing the education system," he added.
Compared to the Finnish perspectives, what do we find in the schooling system of Bangladesh? There is no uniformed education system, while the quality and standard and even the syllabus of the studies vary from school to school.
"I think the Finnish system can produce better and better results by continuing the development processes like we are doing now." - Heikki Ervast, school principal in Finland
The education system in the government primary schools is different to that of private schools. Although the situation of the government secondary schools is far better in the big cities, the situation of government primary schools even in the capital city of Dhaka is very poor.
The qualifications and training of the teachers are also different based on the schools and locations. The admission procedures of the schools also face a lack of discipline. The phrase "admission test" creates panic among parents and guardians who want to admit their children to the so-called reputed educational institutions.
The competition is very tough at some schools, while some schools are suffering from want of students. In some cases, school authorities practise unhealthy procedures for taking in students, which is not only unethical but also makes the education system corrupt.
Some private schools that have mushroomed in the big cities are just doing business in the name of education and the qualifications of their teachers are also not beyond question. Even I am confused if there is any proper monitoring system in place by the authorities to check the education quality of such schools.
The curricula of the primary and secondary education are not uniformed, too. In addition, one peculiar education system called the English version of the Bengali curriculum has been developed in Bangladesh.
I think this kind of curriculum not only creates extra pressure on the students, but also deprives them of knowing many important lessons properly due to their lack of knowledge in a foreign language.
Moreover, huge volumes of syllabus and extra pressure of examinations keep the students occupied most of the time, and make their study life very boring. In most cases, they do not enjoy learning at all.
Lack of proper uniformed policy, transparency and monitoring are also found to make the education system errant, leading to various unhealthy practices in the schools. A few years back, we saw frequent incidents of question paper leakages of examinations.
Instead of accepting the truth and taking protective measures, the education minister of that time was found to get angry at the people who raised the issue.
I wanted to know the views of Mohammad Murad Hossain Sarker, a senior teacher at the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka, about the drawbacks of the schooling system in Bangladesh.
He pointed out many loopholes topped by a lack of qualified teachers, discrimination among different classes of people, political influences in educational institutes, lack of social dignity of the teaching profession, raging coaching business, a want of sport facilities and adequate playgrounds for the students, and backdated curriculum devoid of joy.
Sarker, however, focused on various limitations such as the lack of an education-friendly cultural atmosphere, poverty, and absence of responsible guardians in Bangladesh that also negatively impact the country's education system.
Finally, I want to point out that the Finnish national broadcasting corporation Yle in a recent survey found that about 70 percent Finnish people support replacing religion and ethics with a subject open to kids of all faiths.
I believe they will ultimately take such time-befitting measures to uphold the standard of their education system. On the other hand, in comparison, the government in Bangladesh has recognised an unscientific and non-productive madrasah education system and has given it a status equivalent to that of the general education.
I believe unscientific education is not a fit to the global modern education and will not bring any betterment for any country, except taking its education system behind.
Considering the above circumstances, we found many opposite and contradictory scenarios between the schooling systems of Bangladesh and Finland.
If Bangladesh wants to overcome the situation, my opinion is that the Bangladesh authorities should follow the positive examples of the successful education system in different countries in the world.
The authorities should emphasise on realistic, scientific, and modern education system and take all necessary measures to take the Bangladeshi schooling system to a better standard in the global perspective.